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The boating industry’s tablet revolution

By Mike Davin

At boat shows and beyond, the information customers want is now just a swipe away.

It’s hard to imagine now that tablet computers barely existed prior to April 2010, when Apple introduced the original iPad, given how ubiquitous they have become.

Restaurants are using them to take orders, school kids are using them to take tests and just about everyone is using them to kill time flicking around Angry Birds.

Marine dealers are no exception, with a number of businesses utilizing the devices in ways that help their bottom lines.

David Bair of Quality Boats of Tampa Bay says his dealership was an early adopter and started using tablets as soon as the original iPad came out. Chuck Guthrie, president of Lynnhaven Marine in Virginia Beach, Va., followed shortly behind when his manufacturing partners launched their first apps. Bob Geiger, general manager at Minnesota’s Wayzata Marine, is a more recent convert whose dealership just started to use tablets following the release of Chaparral’s iPad app.

But regardless of when they started using tablets, all three dealers say they plan to expand their use of the devices moving forward.

Going mobile
The most obvious advantage of using a tablet is they are mobile. Guthrie says his team primarily uses tablets at boat shows and other off-site sales locations — for example, a parking lot or a bank where they have brought a couple of boats to display.

In both instances, Guthrie says he is limited as to how much inventory he can bring, but the tablets give his sales team the ability to show off any boat they want with photos and video.

Geiger, meanwhile, points out that having a tablet can serve the same purpose as giving salespeople a stack of brochures to use with customers — without the hassle of dragging around different collateral for each boat model the dealership carries.

“It really has helped us out,” Bair notes. “Instead of saying, ‘Let me get the answer,’ we can answer literally 99 percent of all questions right there.”

In addition, tablets allow salespeople to utilize all the tools they would have at the dealership while off-site.

Lynnhaven’s staff has the ability to do an F&I credit score check right on the boat show floor. Really, almost anything from the office is accessible via a tablet today. Hampton Watercraft and Marine of New York utilizes a service called “Go to my PC,” which gives staff remote access to every file and application on their computers, so long as the computers are turned on and logged in.

“This year our sales team were given iPads for easy access to our servers back in the office, access to all of our company sales tools, listings for all of our boats and Internet access,” says company president Tony Villareale. “We find it very important to be able to be standing on a boat with a customer and pull up a video relating to that boat.”

Wayzata Marine started using the iPad to take advantage of the new Chaparral app.

Finding uses throughout the dealership
Dealers aren’t just using tablets outside the office, however. WakeSide Marine in Elkhart, Ind., invested in a Wi-Fi network in its showroom this past season specifically so they could take advantage of what tablets can offer.

“We keep all of the tools that used to be on a computer or in a desk with the salesman at all times so that the sales process never has to get interrupted,” says company president Jeff Haradine.

Haradine says this puts pictures, testimonials, competitive analysis information, Web and email access, brochures and more at their fingertips at all times. The company also purchased several flatscreen TVs for the showroom that loop videos, and they attached an Apple TV to each one so that they can “flick” any image or video from the iPad to the monitors.

“This is awesome, for example, when we are explaining wake surfing to someone that hasn’t experienced it,” Haradine says. “We can have a YouTube video on a flat screen in the showroom in seconds.”

This past year, Woodard Marine in Hydeville, Vt., started using tablets in all of its departments.

The company uses tablets in its sales department to film video walkthroughs of its used boats. In its service department, it uses tablets to take pictures during check-in with the service writer. And the company utilizes QR tags and iPads in innovative ways to share lifestyle videos, how-to videos in the rental department, service procedures and sales videos.

Lauren Woodard-Splatt, the company’s general manager, says that integration will only increase as new tablet-specific software is developed for the industry. Marine industry software makers and manufacturers are currently developing more advanced apps that will offer the ability to handle many lead management and DMS functions directly from the tablet.

“Once this happens, we will be utilizing them in all departments,” Woodard-Splatt says.

Getting online
Wi-Fi hotspots are common these days, but they aren’t necessary to get a tablet online.

Most tablets can access the Internet either through built-in cellular capabilities or by tethering the device to a cell phone for Wi-Fi-only tablets.

Boat builder apps put model specs and other information at dealers’ fingertips.

In fact, given the high cost of purchasing a Wi-Fi connection at a boat show, Guthrie says the ability to use a cellular connection via a tablet is a relative bargain.

Likewise, Bair says the company pays for a data connection for a couple of employees’ phones, which other employees can branch off to access the Internet.

Quality has closed multiple deals not just outside the showroom at a boat show but on the water during a sea trial. Bair says technology has become so portable that they can scan driver’s licenses, fill out the necessary paperwork and even receive wire transfers, all while still on the boat.

Virtual customers
As recently as six years ago, Bair says he sold perhaps 1 out of 100 boats to a customer he never met. Today, he estimates that 25 percent of Quality’s customers never enter the store.

To help create a relationship with those customers, salespeople use iPads to conduct video conferences and share videos of the boats. Many of these customers are located around the world, so the iPads give the staff the flexibility to talk when it’s convenient for the customer, which is often after hours.

Services like Square or Intuit’s GoPayment make it easy to accept credit cards anywhere.

“I know everyone says that the international market is soft or not what it was,” Bair says. “But the reality is we delivered a boat to Bangkok, Thailand, last week; we delivered two boats to Greece two months ago; we deliver boats to Australia — and people are in different time zones. And sometimes it’s the first person who responds back who they feel most comfortable with.”

Taking credit
Another popular use for mobile technology and tablets is on the fuel dock as a credit card processing system.

“The great thing about this system is it is paperless and emails the customer a copy of the receipt,” says Woodard-Splatt, “saving the environment and our expense of paper receipts.”

Bair says his company used to pay a 2-percent fee for taking credit card deposits, but with today’s technology, that is a thing of the past. In fact, he says, if you’re still paying for it, it’s an expense you should get rid of today.

The power of the tablet
“The iPads have such an ability to show and engage the customer and our ability to mirror it onto a big screen in the showroom only magnifies that experience,” Haradine of WakeSide says.

The laundry list of advantages he cites for using tablets is impressive. He says his salespeople now have immediate access to competitors’ boats and data about them for comps; they have video and pictures to provide the customer a virtual tour of the boats or show an experience on the water; they can access the Internet for other information such as trade values; they have CSI scores and testimonials ready to show as well as all brochures and relevant apps; and they can do all of this without ever leaving a presentation on a boat.

That’s a powerful tool, and it’s one that deserves a look from any dealership that isn’t currently using it.



  1. One topic that need discussion is the ability to use XML and HTML5 to re-purpose much of existing non-mobile marketing tools.
    Geo-fencing, NFC and other emerging tools also need to be part of the discussion.

  2. I've been an advocate of this for years now and welcome the opportunity to connect with people seeking funding, subject matter expertise or human capital to make it happen. Please connect with me (Linked In profile above) if you have an interest in getting relevant data out of the wheelhouse and onto tablets or require representation in the Nation's Capital.

    Let's get this done together.


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